Reading Whilst Driving or Screens vs Pages

I, too, was among those on the road for Thanksgiving, completing the annual there-and-back and enjoying the restful splendor of the in-laws' and Thanksgiving and hikes and food and, of course, books.  I was also grading aplenty (come on, December 12th!), but there were still several notable reading experiences.

First, the usual mass of audiobooks meant we enjoyed a few kids' selections that were new to me and two that were not.  I hadn't read Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater since I was a child, but I thought I remembered it being good, so I picked it up on CD.  And let me tell you, it was an absolute joy to listen to, for me and the whole family.  What wasn't so joyful was finding out how ridiculously the movie version simply ripped off the title of this children's classic and paid no attention whatsoever to the actual content of the book.  If you have seen the movie, please, PLEASE read the book as well.  The two share nothing more than those three little words on the cover.  See, the premise of the book is that a humble house-painter spends his winters (when he can't paint houses) reading and dreaming about faraway travel like that being undertaken by Admiral Drake in the Arctic.  He even writes a letter to the Admiral, and on his evening radio program, Admiral Drake reads the letter and promises to send him a surprise straight from the South Pole. When the surprise (which Popper names Captain Cook) arrives, the adventure begins.  It is implausible and ridiculous and hilarious and charming and completely, totally, wonderfully fun.

The movie, on the other hand, allows Jim Carrey's Mr. Popper to somehow become a wealthy divorced businessman who is too wrapped up in work to care much about his family or his estranged father, who unexpectedly decides one day to send him 6 penguins.  The penguins, OF COURSE, warm Popper's cold little heart and bring him closer to his family and make him not so concerned with work and money and all that foolishness. 

For the record, I have not seen the movie, but I think this second storyline is more implausible and not nearly so charming.  Instead, it is canned and predictable, and it belittles the beauty and wit of the book.  I mean, for realz, people!  It doesn't even come CLOSE.  I know it is common for us bookish-types to complain about movie versions of books we love, but isn't this going too far, even for non-bookish types?  Don't we expect a movie version of a book to at least resemble the original plot a little?

Our second big audio-read was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by the inimitable E. L. Konigsburg.  Naturally, we are loving it.  What's not to love about a girl and her brother running away and living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City?  And there's a mystery to solve, too?  Couldn't be better.  In fact, I'm now thinking it would make a great movie.  A little internet research (ba-da bing, ba-da boom!) tells me it was made in 1973 with Ingrid Bergman and in 1995 as a television movie.  Have you seen either?  Are they faithful to the book?

Finally, you should know that I am about halfway through with A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, and it is blowing my mind.  It is so, so good: the perfect fit for me right now.  I have been needing to fall into a book so completely, and the world-building, fantasy/historicalfiction, multiple narratives, multiple voices THING has got me captivated.  So much so, in fact, that I can hardly bear the wait until they release the first season of the HBO series on DVD.  I watched the trailer (see below), and it looks like a fantastic adaptation. 

Is it as good as it looks?  It might be worth getting HBO just to have immediate access to all those back episodes.  And I don't even have cable.


Last Chance for Giveaway!

If you want to enter the Kitchen Counter Cooking School Giveaway, NOW IS THE TIME.  You have until the end of the day today to post a comment.  Do it.


The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn *Giveaway*

It's November, and like the rest of upper-middle class America, I am thinking about cooking.  But it's not for the reason you might be assuming.  I don't associate this time of year with cooking because of the holidays.  Forget Thanksgiving.  Christmas baking?  Bah!  I make this connection because late fall 2004 is when I first started becoming a cook, a process I will undoubtedly continue for years and years to come.  That fall, I was pregnant with our first little one.  We had our first house after years in rentals.  We had completed a kitchen renovation, and I was doing some serious nesting.  For realz, y'all.  I was making curtains, watching The Food Network (before Rachel Ray got completely annoying), and I was cooking.  Like reading certain books at certain times that linger in the memory, I can still recall specific recipes from that time.  I also vividly remember getting two beautiful Wusthof knives from my husband for Christmas, which I opened at midnight Christmas Eve (Day?) while in labor with the aforementioned first little one.

I'm not exactly a foodie (no morels and wasabi-glazed cornish hens here), but I do love to prepare good food, and I take it pretty seriously most of the time.  I'm not the most adventurous when it comes to ingredients, but I like to make things from scratch, to make a beautiful dish, to make something that causes me to sit back and say, "now, that is good."  So, when Raych of booksIdoneread reviewed The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, I immediately wanted to read the book, and when she offered it as a giveaway, I was all *sign. me. up.*  The fact that I actually won the giveaway is fun, and even more fun is this book and the stuff I learned from it. (Psstt.  I'm giving away my copy, so read on!)  Considering I started my process a good seven years ago (and really many more than that if you count all the brownies and blueberry bar cookies I made in high school), there was much here I already knew.  But for those who haven't yet tackled The Omnivore's Dilemma or watched Food, Inc, Flinn offers a lot of information peppered with a healthy dose of humor and good-natured reflection.  She instructs her students (and thus, somewhat, her readers) on how to properly chop an onion, how to cut up a whole chicken, how to make soup from whatever is in your fridge, and how to bake bread.  It was this last that most inspired me, and the recipe for artisan bread she includes is definitely a keeper. 

Look!  I made bread!

And the night before that, I made her spaghetti sauce and froze the leftovers.  

I will continue to tinker with both recipes, but that is exactly what Flinn is advocating for in this book: a confidence in the kitchen that enables you to tinker.  So in the interest of paying it forward, I am offering this book as a giveaway as well.  I will copy a few recipes down first, but if you want it, comment below, and I'll throw your name in the hat.  I'll draw the winner on Monday, so be quick!


small as an elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

The offspring and I will head to the library this afternoon, an activity we have been neglecting of late.  As it is due today, I have just finished small as an elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, a small-people chapter book I picked up just because the cover was so charming.  I mean, look:

That is some cute elephant right there.  And the font and the minimalism?  Yup.  My alley and this book cover are smack on top of each other.

This book is fairly new, released in March 2011 from Candlewick Press, who also publishes some of my favorite small-people authors (Hello, Kate DiCamillo!) and books (Bag in the Wind = beautiful).  Beyond having a lovely cover, this book is a truly solid story with strong writing and characterization behind it.  small as an elephant tells the story of Jack, an 11-year-old boy who is camping with his mom in Acadia National Park when everything goes wrong.  At first, the reader is shocked to realize that Jack's mom has just left him in the night.  LEFT.  HIM.  As a mom, I had a hard time accepting this reality, but I suspected something else was up.  And indeed it was.

Told thoughtfully through the thoroughly believable voice of Jack, this story reveals what Jack knows about his mom, her "spinning" times, and the difficulties of their life together.  This incident, although it launches something bigger than previously experienced, is not entirely out of the ordinary for Jack, which makes him an entirely out of the ordinary kind of boy. His interest in elephants extends this other-ordinariness, but not in a disturbing way.  Let's just say I've known a few kids with obsessions, and this one is mild, comforting even, an appropriate touchstone for Jack and the reader to return to throughout the difficult journey this book takes.  I especially like the brief elephant facts and anecdotes at the opening of each chapter.  Did you know this?
During World War II, authorities in Tokyo worried that the zoo would be bombed and the escaped animals would be dangerous.  By order, all animals were to be poisoned, but the elephants refused to eat their poisoned food.
It leaves me wondering what they did as a result, which is a bit depressing, but there are other, more heart-warming or engaging anecdotes as well.  Jack even mentions the TN Elephant Sanctuary, which is just a couple of hours from here, and the dog/elephant relationship that became so famous on the interwebz a few years ago.  A quick search for that original video revealed the unfortunate news that Bella (the dog) died recently.

Though this turn of events is sad (at least for animal lovers like myself), it is uncannily appropriate to this book, which deals with loss and renewal and the importance of support from the "herd."  The ending was a bit tidy, but it worked for me despite some small incredulity.  I don't think a young reader would be so cynical, so it is an appropriate ending.  However, that issue of audience does draw me to my one major question mark about this book.  Although I don't often shrink from discussing difficult issues with my kids or approve of the "censorship" of challenging material, I wonder if the average 8-11 year old would fully understand this book.  To see Jack's mom as merely "sick" might work, but without a better, more adult understanding of bipolar disorder, the young reader might just be left wondering what kind of sickness would make a mom leave her son at a campsite.  Just a suspicion on my part, which may not affect the young reader at all.  "Sick" might be enough of an explanation at that age.

In other news, I am placing book orders for the Spring semester and have mostly everything in place.  However, I am seeking suggestions for a novel by an American writer published AND SET in America sometime after 2001.  Ideally, said book would be by a woman and would handle such themes as family, education, race, consumerism, place, identity, diversity, sexuality, and/or freedom.

So there's that.  Holla if you gots some ideas.


What? Free Books? For Me? You Shouldn't Have.

Thanks to Vasilly for connecting me with this Santa-rific way to kick off the holidays!  Apparently, Chronicle Books is offering this sled-full of books giveaway, and once I saw it, I just had to throw my name in.  Here's the deal (actually, here's the official deal; mine is the condensed soup version):

Browse the Chronicle stash.....

Choose your favorite $500 worth (it goes a long way, people!).....

Post on your choices.....

Get a chance to win said $500 worth of books for you, a commenter (hint, hint, that's you!), and a charity of choice.

That's pretty fantastic, n'est pas?

Without further ado, here's my hoped-for haul:

Chronicle has some pretty awesome small-people selections, so I have focused almost exclusively on that category, but definitely check out their art or photography books or stationary, and oh, did I mention they put out Moleskine?  I wonder if anyone will just wish for $500 worth of Moleskines?  That would be note(book)worthy.

First, is my most wished-for book of the year: Press Here
This book is seriously amazing.  See?

Next, for my ongoing quest for beautiful and informative books for the offspring:

My son's favorite dinosaur.

The covers of these books are lovely. I want several in each series.

These Art Activity Packs include information and several activities to spark the artist's imagination.  Also, I just had to include the doodle planner - seems like something my daughter would love.

In preparation for our upcoming (2013) trip to Europe, I am always on the lookout for titles that will pull my kids across the ocean.  This Charlotte series and the Citywalk books are perfect.

I don't have to have a good reason, do I?

These two will be perfect for our annual Halloween Bash:

And with my interest in the Caldecott medal winners and illustrators in general, this book was a no-brainer:

Beautiful books for my kitchen habit:

Last but not least, 
it is Christmas after all:

So, what do you think?  Looks amazing, right?  Comment between now and December 2nd.  If my post is the winner, you'll win the same stash, and my kids' school, The Montessori School of Chattanooga, will get $500 to bring home their own Happy Haul-idays from Chronicle Books.  Bon chance!


Welcome, Eastern Standard Time

I thought about waiting ten more days to post because then it would have been a full month since I last graced these *pages*, but that would take more energy and planning than I've got right now.  My tank was seriously depleted by the month of October, and lest you were worried, let me throw some reassurance your way: nothing tragic happened.  We're completely fine.  In fact, beyond persistent coughs and some regular life stuff, nothing bad happened at all.  Though I do not, like some, spend the entirety of November announcing my thanksgivings to the world, I am thankful for the regular busy-ness and fun that has worn me down this month.  But, it's over, and Daylight Savings Time has ended, and for once I'm glad.  I have been seriously craving the comforts of blanketed dark and the warmth and quiet of home nights, so this year, DST ended at just the right time.  Aaahh, coming Winter and the fullness of time.

As for what I've been reading, here's the rundown just for posterity's sake:

The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1) by Michael Buckley
Tutored by Allison Whittenberg (which was thrust into my hands at the library by a former student - so cool when that happens)
Currently reading The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn and courtesy of Raych at booksidoneread.

None of these are blowing me away, but I have one more small people book to read before it goes back to the library, so here's hoping with some fingers crossed.

And just because my heart is heavy for a friend, may I suggest that you call or hug or otherwise let your mother know that she is loved and cherished?  It would mean a lot.